Chatological Humor: Barney & Clyde; open relationships; Web commenters? (UPDATED 4.20.10)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 23, 2010; 12:00 PM

WEEKLY UPDATES: 3.30.10 | 4.06.10 | 4.20.10

Gene Weingarten's humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in The Washington Post magazine. It is syndicated nationally by the Washington Post Writers Group.

At one time or another, Below the Beltway has managed to offend persons of both sexes as well as individuals belonging to every religious, ethnic, regional, political and socioeconomic group. If you know of a group we have missed, please write in and the situation will be promptly rectified. "Rectified" is a funny word.

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. This month, that day is Tuesday, March 23 at Noon ET .He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

This week's polls:

Comics Poll

Journalism Poll

Frugality Poll (choose one):

I don't have cash-flow problems or real money worries | I have cash-flow problems, or real money worries

Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.

Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death," co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca and "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs," with photographer Michael S. Williamson.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

P.S. If composing your questions in Microsoft Word please turn off the Smart Quotes functionality or use WordPad. I haven't the time to edit them out. -- Liz


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

Today is shaping up to be a comics-intensive chat. If you haven't hit the polls, please do so now, because I am going to talk about Dennis The Menace right here, soon.

Shortly after passage of the Health Care bill, I got an e-mail from Garry Trudeau. It was very simple. Garry linked to a news photo, and wrote only this: "Look to the left of his watch."

Yes, folks, just to put things in perspective. At the transcendent moment of his new presidency, the commander in chief of the Western World was getting inspiration from the Washington Post Sunday Funnies. For the record, it is open to "Doonesbury," "Pickles," and "Sherman's Lagoon." Now, it may just be that Obama is a big "Pickles" fan, but I'm guessing he'd just looked at this.

Okay. Speaking of comics, today in this very space we unveil for the first time the grand designs of "Barney & Clyde," the comic strip created by me, my son, Dan Weingarten, and cartoonist David Clark. Here it is, explained in the brand-new "Barney and Clyde" Facebook fan page, which you are hereby cordially invited to join.

The genesis of the strip:

One day in 2005, I got a package in the mail from a cartoonist whose work I admire enormously. He had come up with a new newspaper comic strip, and wanted my opinion of it. The truth was, I didn't like it much. Dan -- who was 20 and living in my basement -- didn't like it much, either. He went on and on about why it sucked until he started getting me mad.

I explained to my son, lovingly and patiently, what a gigantic horse's ass he was being -- presuming to belittle the work of a cartooning legend, a man thrice his age, just because he happened to misfire this once. I told Dan that coming up with a workable idea for a comic strip was a very difficult thing, and that it was churlish and callow and outrageous of someone with no experience at all to be so judgmental and dismissive. Dan grumbled and muttered and shuffled away into his room. I went back to work in my basement dungeon office.

Five minutes later, Dan returned and said "You know what would be a good idea? A comic strip about a friendship between a billionaire and a bum." Then he shuffled out again. I stared at my computer screen for a minute, got up from my desk, walked over to a calendar on the wall, and circled the date: April 28. That's the birthday of "Barney & Clyde."

I figured it would take us about four months to find a cartoonist and get into a few hundred newspapers. I had not counted on a few delaying factors, principal among them a woman named Amy Lago, the comics editor of The Washington Post Writers Group, who has her own ideas of what constitutes a finished product, and whom one does not strong-arm, end-around, or otherwise avoid, deter, or ride roughshod over. So, yes, it has been five years in development. Dan has since moved out, gone back to college, won the Nobel Prize in physics, etc. We have more than a year's worth already written and drawn.

We found David Clark, the cartoonist, through my friend, the great Richard Thompson. David is a hayseed who is holed up in the hills of Luray, Virginny with his woman, three young-uns, and assorted critters. He is an artist and a half.

The Syndicate (I love this term) doesn't want me to release any strips, but you can find the characters on the Facebook page, and a brief description of what the strip is about. I'm happy to field questions, and take brickbats, here.

Also, I'd be grateful for any ideas for how we can make this site interesting, interactive, subversively lascivious, etc., once the strip debuts.


The "Dennis The Menace" cartoons in the poll were the first cartoons I ever saw. They're straight from a book that my parents had in the house when I was a baby -- published in 1952, the year after I was born. They're apropos today because they stand as a reminder to me what can happen to a good idea, over time and under market pressures, if you are not careful.

Have you ever wondered why Dennis was a "menace"? Well, now you know. He used to be.

When Hank Ketcham started this strip in 1950 to near universal applause, "Dennis the Menace" was a mean-spirited brat who did awful things. He stuck the cat's tail in a wall socket. He scissored up books and cut pigtails off little girls. He twisted swans' necks into pretzels. There was a good reason Mr. Wilson hated him. The strip had a nice raw edge that seemed both familiar and strangely comforting to frazzled baby-boom parents: Dennis was even more of a handful than their kids.

As its client constituency got broader and spread across the square states, "Dennis" soon succumbed to the numbing and dumbing committee effect. Then came the TV show, which delivered the coup de grace: Dennis Mitchell became likeably mischievous, then just cute, and, eventually, just sickeningly precious. He's still there.

Dan, David and I hope to remember this always and resist dairy calls to homogenize and sweeten.

And yes, poll-wise, old was waaaay better than new. Edge is good. The one in which Henry Mitchell took Dennis to the strip club instead of the zoo is simply breathtakingly great. The only place I disagree with the poll results is that I think Ruff in the corner is excellent. It's just a wonderful sight gag.

Hank Ketcham's art was very, very good. I asked Bob Staake, the Style Invitational and New Yorker cover cartoonist (in that order) to explain why. It's the fluidity of line, he said -- the feel that it was drawn in one grand, effortless sweep. The style has been copied by cartoonists for the last half century. Bob says it falls short of great -- that it's mostly very competent, very professional, but not utterly brilliant like Walt Kelly (Pogo). I would have called it world-class, but I defer to an expert.


My friend Horace LaBadie supplies today's news-clip gem, which is both a Person Who Should Be Convicted on Mug Shot Alone, AND one of the greatest aptonyms in the history of the world:

WOODSTOCK, Ga. -- Cherokee County authorities are looking for a 56-year-old French national living in Woodstock who they said has been trying to buy a 5-year-old child on the Internet.

Police said investigators went to Patrick Molesti's Woodstock home last Thursday with a search warrant and recovered a computer with child pornography on it. Molesti was not at home at the time.


In a similar vein, my friend Brady Holt found this quote from the University of Maryland Diamondback:

"Don't always believe what you read," Vice President of Marketing Elaine Delude said.


And lastly, I heard from Karen Lyon about my column on Sunday about the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike. The last time she traved the T, Karen noted the same things I had noted and penned this:

I wrote a poem about a tree

And now I'm just a place to pee.

So travelers, have a care for me--

Go piss on Vincent Lombardi.

That's it. Let's go. As it were.


Somewhere in Maryland: Gene,

I mentioned this a long time ago in your chat, and you said I am quite unusual. But I want to do a quick informal poll and find out how true that is.... Basically, I've been involved with my boyfriend for many years. We are both 40-somethings. We have the same attitude you do about marriage (no need) but remain fully committed to each other. We are best friends. Here's where we probably differ from most people - I don't care if he "gets some" occasionally. I mean, I believe sex is sex and it's different from love, and if he gets the opportunity (say, while on a business trip) to get some "strange", well, I don't mind if he takes it. We have 3 rules (no lies to anyone, must be safe, and it mustn't impinge on our own GREAT sex life). How weird am I? I must say it really rarely happens (the strange) and as he once said (maybe half joking) "you've taken the fun out of cheating!". But that wasn't my intent - I just think it adds to our own enjoyment of each other. Variety is the spice of life.

So, anyway, is this attitude more common than it appears? Or are we REALLY odd?

Gene Weingarten: We're about to find out with an ... Instapoll! Yay! Instapoll: Women | Men


St Pete, Fla.: Baby killer!

Sorry. Got caught up in the health care debate.

Speaking of that, now that the bill has finally become law, I can hardly wait to get sick! I used to hate illness but from now on it's gonna be awesome!

Gene Weingarten: It's gonna ROCK. Fatals will be particularly exciting.


Washington, D.C.: Not only are the older Dennis the Menace cartoons funnier, but the mom is much hotter. I approve.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, and Hank Ketcham used to love drawing her in mildly titillating situations. Alice VERY frequently was interrupted in her ablutions:






In locating these images via image-searching "Alice Mitchell" I discovered there is also a small industry of reader-drawn Alice Mitchell porn, most of it completely loathsome.


here is a photo of the real Hank Ketcham

, with the real Dennis, who was his real son.

The story of the real Dennis is a sad one: He hated his father and his father hated him: They were estranged to the point that Hank did not help Dennis when he ran into troubles both financial and chemical.

Oh, and the real Alice Mitchell was an alcoholic who died young.

This is from a book "The Name's Familiar," by Laura Lee:

Although Dennis may have been in storybooks, he did not lead a storybook life. As a boy, he had learning disabilities. His mother was an alcoholic, and his father's work schedule left little time for his son. In 1959, shortly after his mother filed for divorce, Dennis was sent to boarding school. A few months later Alice Ketcham died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 41. Hank Ketcham remarried and moved Dennis to Switzerland. He had such a difficult time in Swiss boarding school that his father sent him to boarding school in America while he and his new wife remained in Europe.

After graduating, Dennis joined the Marines and went to Vietnam. Upon his return, he was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and drifted from one low-paying job to another. Meanwhile, Hank Ketcham, now a multi-millionaire, was divorced and married a third wife, with whom he had two more children. Dennis was also divorced and had remarried. He was, himself, estranged from his daughter. "I hear from Dennis about once a year, mostly when he needs money," Hank Ketcham told People magazine in 1993.

Although Dennis says that he wishes his father had written about something other than his childhood, he keeps a large collection of Dennis the Menace dolls and books.


X-rated at work: Can you please explain why people still visit porn sites at work? I think most people skirt company policy from time to time (checking personal email, making personal phone calls, wearing flip flops, etc.) But visiting an X-rated site is a no-brainer line you just don't cross. I may go 10-mph over the limit, but I'm not going to go 30-mph over the limit in a speed trap. Especially if there's an automatic system that KEEPS A RECORD of my violation. So please, sir. Can you explain this behavior?

Gene Weingarten: No. It seems about as self-destructive a behavior as I can imagine.

I do remember in the early days of the Web, I had legitimate occasion to show Tom the Butcher something pornographic on his computer at work. (I was proposing doing a story about the young, fresh-faced, beautiful, girl-next-door types who were baring all, in completely inelegant ways, on websites. I wanted to see who they were and why the hell they were doing this.) So, I called up one of these sites on Tom's computer. What happened was, once it got on his screen, some primitive bot took over, and began leaping madly from one porn site to another, with increasingly disgusting imagery.

We banged on the keyboard futilely, furtively looking about, feeling naked and hunted. Eventually, Tom shut off the computer, losing some unsaved work.

Which reminds me of that wonderful old site, which I'd link to here but someone, somewhere, would kill me for it: the one that cranks up your volume and blares out: "I'm looking at gay porn! I'm looking at gay porn!"

(Tom never let me do that story.)


Tampa, Fla.: Any hints on when your new strip will make it's debut in print? Any idea how many papers will run it?

Congrats to you guys for what looks to be a great strip. Looking forward to reading it?

Five years, though? Jeez. Is it normal for a new strip to take that long to make it to press?

Gene Weingarten: Amy swears that four to five years is not atypical. She's probably lying. Most are probably in print within DAYS.

It debuts June 7. No clue yet how many papers it is going to appear in -- the sales effort is just beginning. The only certain client so far is The Washington Post, for which I am enormously grateful.


Brita, IN: In Britain, it's ethically okay to pay sources. But they also have a different attitude about the objectivity of news producers. Everyone knows that the BBC is "objective" (or as they would say "are objective"; crazy Brit collective nouns), albeit slanted toward the establishment, while the various print sources display political personalities. Fox News plays by British rules in an American context, which is why they're successful and why other folks are so confounded by their success. Do you think we'll head toward the British standard?

Gene Weingarten: My answer to that question may surprise some people, including some of my bosses.

The Post doesn't allow paying, therefore I would never do it.

But I don't see anything cripplingly wrong with it, so long as it is paying for information that may then be independently verified. If someone is going to charge me $5,000 to tell me where I can witness the mayor accept a bribe from a contractor, I don't see what's wrong with doing that. It's in the public good.

The Post, and most big American newspapers, disagree. I respect that.


McLean VA: From a website owned by The Washington Post (let's see if Liz allows THIS!)

Behold the Flaming Tatas of India!

Gene Weingarten: Liz sent it to me, so we have her answer.


Zoologic, AL: "The one in which Henry Mitchell took Dennis to the strip club instead of the zoo is simply breathtakingly great."

This is a funny joke but very poor in the context of the strip. In this case Henry, not Dennis, is the menace: he's the one who took a child into a burlesque hall. The ones where Dennis is the naughty one are better.

Gene Weingarten: But... why? Must they all be about Dennis being a Menace?


Silver Spring, Md.: Gene, I am exactly the sort of person who should appreciate the Washington Post, my hometown paper since 1993, but these days I can't stand to look at it. I don't know whether it's:

- the redesign (nearly every element of which I find off- putting, such as the giant space devoted to artwork at the expense of copy on the front page of Style, or the pseudo-decimal style for date ranges);

- the obviously lower quality of editing resulting from attrition and/or layoffs (a problem exacerbated by the redesign, for example, the additional level of subhead at the top of some stories, consisting of just a few all-caps words that are often poorly chosen);

- the "stir the pot no matter how thin the justification" philosophy of story choice (e.g., all the Palin stories a few months ago);

or some combination of these or other factors - but I don't read the paper anymore, although we still subscribe (I look at certain stories and chats online, that's all).

I hate to sound like an old crank - I'm about 5 or 6 years younger than you are - but I want my old Post back and can't have it. Is your present state of attachment to (or rather detachment from) the Post an indication that you feel likewise?

Gene Weingarten: No, it is not. I was a calculated financial decision, helped by the fact that The Post wanted to hire me back to do half of my previous job.

I love The Post, and people for whom it has always been the local daily are a little spoiled by it: Try traveling the country, and seeing what's out there.

A very talented writer named Dave Kindred is writing a book about The Post; it's titled "Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post A Great Newspaper Fights for Its Life." It'll be published this summer. About two years ago, right after The Post won six Pulitzer Prizes, Kindred asked me what I thought his book should be about, and I said I was afraid it was going to have to be: "A great newspaper dies with dignity."

I'm not so sure anymore. I think the current leadership knows what it is doing. There have been missteps, and brutal cost-cutting that has inarguably diminished the product, but I think it is all being done with strategic intelligence and an eye toward the future. They're not giving up.

I'm more optimistic now, by a lot.


OMG, MD: You mean Dennis the Menace was once actually GOOD? You have just shaken my entire view of the universe. Wow. Just wow.

BTW, I nominate your "the old are better" option for the understatement hall of fame. Wow wow wow. That strip was edgy even by today's standards -- and it's from almost 60 years ago? Holy crap. I would be thrilled to see something like this in the papers today.

Gene Weingarten: It's true. You are not going to see that strip club joke.

You know what else is great... the smoking. Henry Mitchell is smoking IN THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE.


McLean: I notice that Lucretia Pillsbury is a blonde who bears a very slight resemblance to The Rib. Is this intentional? And are Lucretia's boobs real?

Gene Weingarten: She does not resemble the Rib. The Rib is hotter. And yes, those are real.


WaPo Comics: So... your comic is debuting in WaPo soon. What is being kicked out in it's place? Since we know Peanuts/RexMorgan/etc cannot be killed, is it safe to assume we're loosing something actually decent? Does this also mean Frazz is being brought back from the Siberia of Kidspost?

Gene Weingarten: It's replacing Doonesbury.


Gene Weingarten: KIDDING, KIDDING.

Don't know what it's replacing.


YES: Porn and comics. BEST CHAT EVER.

Gene Weingarten: Not just porn. Alice Mitchell porn!


Capitol Hill: PostHunt '10: Gene, we need info!

Gene Weingarten: June 6.


It isn't paying for info that is unethical: The Post pays for information: subscribing to databases, newsletters, etc. It is paying someone directly involved with that story, its outcome AND its reporting that affects objectivity and make it unethical.

Gene Weingarten: Uh.



Austin, Tex.: Any idea on when your chat will get the new chatting software used for the Celebritology chats? I'm tired of hitting the refresh button. Possibly as soon as next month's chat. There will be, as you can imagine, some training required for himself.

Gene Weingarten: Of this I am terrified.


Jersey Turnpike: My favorite rest area is the one named after Joyce Kilmer. It's the only reason I know who Joyce Kilmer is. I bet everyone knows the first two lines to a Joyce Kilmer poem but I bet no one knows she wrote it. And I bet even less people know that she was a man.


Gene Weingarten: Or that she was shot and killed by a German sniper in World War I.


Variety is the spice of life??: "I just think it adds to our own enjoyment of each other. Variety is the spice of life."

OK, but HOW? How does you or your partner being with someone else add to YOUR experience? They try something new with the the other person that then they decide the two of you should try?

Why can't variety in your relationship with your partner be spicy enough for you?

Maybe I am old-fashioned or a bit of a prude, but I'm just not getting it. I call it Attention-Deficit Sexuality - we are getting so used to needing new stimulation, new experiences, all the time, that maybe we are losing appreciation for just being with and loving one person - period.

Gene Weingarten: I am more inclined to thing that different relationships work in different ways. I have become a lot less judgmental over time, except in matters like gay marriage.


From Wikipedia: "In 1977, Word Books, Inc. commissioned Hank Ketcham Enterprises, Inc. to produce a series of ten comic books under the title Dennis and the Bible Kids, with the usual cast of characters reading (and sometimes partly acting out) the stories of Joseph, Moses, David, Esther, Jesus, and other Biblical characters. These were sold through Christian bookstores and related outlets. Each issue contained several inspirational renderings by Hank Ketcham himself."

I never knew that. Then again, I never knew about the strip ever being funny. It makes the strip club joke that much better.

Gene Weingarten: It does, doesn't it?


Arlington, VA: Why'd you get a professional artist? How do I get one? I used to draw a cartoon in school, but the artistry was bleh. Do you feel like you're cheating since the artwork is such a heavy piece of the strip? I always felt the drawer would have creative veto power that I didn't want to yield.

Gene Weingarten: Well, you need to have a meeting of the minds. David Clark is a complete creative equal in this. That's the deal. What it means is, we all have veto power over everything. We all need to agree before anything gets sent to Amy.


Enough Already: There can be no doubt that the Post has become a cheerleader for gay marriage after this morning's article on butch lesbians buying men's suits. Enough already. Same-sex weddings open the door to finding the right attire for women, (Post, March 23)

Gene Weingarten: How can you be a "cheerleader" for something that is indisputably right and not reasonably debatable by reasonable people. There is no game. There are just people who are right and people who are wrong. For a newspaper to remain strictly neutral in such a situation would be simple intellectual cowardice. Besides, it's not advocacy so much as journalism: There are gay people. They have the right to marry. This is a story.

Don't mean to suggest a Holocaust comparison, but yours is the "on the other hand, Mr. Hitler contends..." fallacy.


Rockville: What is your view on Jane Meyer's roasting of Marc Thiessen's new book. Why is this person given a job at WP. Nothing has ever made me more angry at The Post or more likely to cancel my subscription, which I never thought I would even consider. Opening your opinion page now feels like reading the Wall Street Journal opinion page and I hate it. Is this all about Web hits or does journalistic pride ever enter the equation?

Gene Weingarten: I thought Ms. Mayer roasted him to a crisp. And no, I have no idea why we are running his thoughts. Just no idea. Lizzie, can we link to the Mayer hit? A curious history of the CIA, (The New Yorker, March 29)


Columbia, Md.: I'm with Silver Spring about no longer liking the WP. The fall in writing and editing really shows. Less politics and hard reporting and more "Lost" hours. And (tying back to the polls) the gratuitous use of anonymous sources looking for an echo chamber in the lead up to Iraq rather than real reporting has pretty much forfeited the reputation the Post had built up from Watergate. I'm beginning to become an internet news gatherer, which could be the death knell of the paper industry as we know it. Gee, thanks.

Gene Weingarten: Here's what you maybe haven't noticed: Our Web stuff is improving exponentially. The tea leaves have been read.


Instapoll: "No lies to anyone." Baha. Ha. Bahaha. BAHAHAHA. Fooling herself.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


The Strange: I'm in a great relationship with a wonderful woman that I will probably end because I find the prospect of monogamy distressing at some deep, inexplicable, level. The fact that she would never agree to the type of relationship proposed by your writer makes me very sad, because I think we would be happy during the 99.9 percent of the time we would be together.

And for the record: I wouldn't care about her any less. Nor would our fabulous sex life suffer.

Gene Weingarten: Also noted.


The Enquirerer Question: Pulitizer? Um... no.

Mr Edwards is a failed politician. He was effectively irrelevent before the revelation of his affair and the pregnancy. His daliance has about the same social pertinence as the trajectory of Tiger Woods.

Woods, Edwards, Letterman (etc); this is celebrity reporting, not journalism. (No offense Liz).

Gene Weingarten: Ah. Well, I disagree with this. When they started reporting, he was a semi-viable candidate, and then he was a very viable veep candidate -- until, thanks to them, he started to smell a little funny.

I think they should be considered for a Pulitzer, but will probably not get it. Not because it wasn't important, but because Pulitzers are not awarded based simply on getting the facts: Writing, having a sense of proportion, and the maturity of presentation counts. They had none.


Getting some on a business trip: I really don't care what other people do, but it does bother me that her letter was all about letting her BF 'stray', but no comment about her own sexual freedom. I mostly judge things by if they're fair and equal. Granted, she may not care to, but it is a red flag for me that there's a strong possibility HE pushed this philosophy and she's convinced herself she likes it. I want to hear about HER getting some on the side and then I'll believe it's a cooperative fair agreement between the two.

Gene Weingarten: Maybe she doesn't want any.


You say cheerleader for gay marriage: I say cheerleader for marriage, for commerce, for equality. Bite me.

Gene Weingarten: No thank you, sir. I'm not for it quite that way.


Divorcing: I was OK with my husband getting a little strange. We had a don't ask-don't tell policy. Then he fell in love with a "stranger." It ain't a great idea, lady.

Gene Weingarten: Also noted.


Arlington, Va.: Yesterday I got progressive lenses. Which I think is a nice way to say tri-focals. This is my first time with reading glasses. Could you say something funny to make me forget the weird and wild visual distortions I am currently enduring as I "adjust" to them? And when did I get old enough for reading glasses???

Gene Weingarten: Yes, they beat the heck out of those old grandparent-era lenses with the upside-down-cartoon-mousehole-shaped thing at the bottom of the lens, don't they?





Arlandria, Va.: Gene,

Do you have a problem with gay marriage? Where do you stand on the issue?

Gene Weingarten: I'm still working it out in my head. Very complicated moral issue.


Falls Church, Va.: Notice how formally everyone was dressed in the old Dennis strips.

Gene Weingarten: Yes. The family dined in dresses and suit and tie. Except for Dennis.


Falls Church, Va.: I was sleeping with a guy who was no longer my boyfriend, who was also sleeping with other girls. It was ridiculously hot to hear about his other conquests.

If I were confident in my relationship and had the proper ground rules laid out, I would love to have an open relationship. Doesn't work for everyone. Not asking it to.

Gene Weingarten: Also noted.


Jersey Turnpike: I ASSUMED Joyce Kilmer was a man, because there's something public named after him.

Gene Weingarten: Hey, they Have Molly Pitcher and Clara Barton.


Rockville, Md.: Okay, Gene. I know that this column is a place in which you frequently discuss issues of philosophical importance, relevant current events, etc. This is not one of those issues. But I think you can give me a good answer here. My significant other is a Bad Kisser. He is 40, so this is not a young man who can be gently and subtly molded. We have been together three years, so I don't feel I can bring it up directly. (Yes, yes, I should have said/done something earlier. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I still don't. How do you tell a middle-aged guy that he missed the kissing boat?) Is there an artful way this can be improved, without him noticing? Note: "Kissing" is not a euphemism. Everything else, ah, physical, is great.

I am of similar age. I have dealt with this matter once before, but we were much younger and I felt I could be direct about it.

Thank you for your consideration.

P.S. I have purchased and read your "Old Dogs" book. I'd recommend it to any animal lover - dogs or not. I have an old cat. I know you're not a particular fan of cats, but I can report that he has hilarious Old Cat peccadilloes.

Gene Weingarten: I believe in kissing. I believe it is very important business.

I would either tell your partner the following, or even better, let him read it right from the chat:

Kissing is a conversation, a very important and intimate conversation in which a person tells another person, in great detail, how much he loves her. Or she loves him. One may be articulate and eloquent at this, or one may be stammering, and dufusy. One may be gentle voiced and kind, or barking orders like a scullery overseer to his maids.

It's important. It may be more important than the other thing.


Orlando, Fla.: I would have liked the strip club strip better if it had made more sense. First, there is no way any sensible person would take a 10-year-old to the strip club -- because they know it isn't the Zoo and they will talk (of course nowadays it would be physically impossible).

Second, if Dennis had been to a strip club with dad he wouldn't say "the women came out and didn't do anything." He would say they "wiggled around and acted crazy" or something similar. It just didn't work. I do love the artwork though.

Gene Weingarten: Dennis is, I believe, four. And I would say what ladies do at a strip club would seem like "doing nothing" to a four year old.


Washington, D.C.: Have you replaced your former car yet? Do we get a picture of it or are you breaking it in before it is ready for its chat debut?

Gene Weingarten: I am considering becoming a Zip Dip. Zipcar. Anyone have any bad experiences/cautionary tales they'd like to pass on?


Santa Clara, Calif.: Since you have a poll regarding the comments following news stories, I feel obligated to share my beliefs about what works and what doesn't. First and foremost, if you want good dialogue between people with differing opinions, unregulated and unmoderated commenting simply won't work. As an online forum browser, participant, and moderator, I've learned a good commenting system takes a lot of effort from both the forum host and the participants, and has to have solid foundation of policies and standards.

I love WaPo and I'd really like to see good dialogue, but I'm almost always disappointed when I see most of the comments are crap. If you want to do this right, you need three essential elements:

- Active moderation. The best systems rely not only on the forum hosts, but on the participants themselves to filter or ban users when needed (qualified participants, see below).

- Qualification. New users should be identified as such, and they should not be allowed to freely comment without qualifying themselves first. Moderators and other "starred" participants can judge.

- Recognition. Use well qualified commenters as an extra resource. Identify and recognize them, and that will motivate participants to be that much more responsible.

Geek rant over.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks. This is interesting.


Malvern, Pa.: Just chiming in on the Dennis cartoons...I'd seen all of them, somehow - thanks for the explanation that they were in a book - my parents or grandparents must have had the same one. (I'm almost exactly the same age as Liz, so eternally young and hot)

Gene Weingarten: It's, I think, the second collection. Because I cannot operate a computer competently, I overnighted the book to Liz, who scanned it here for the chat.

Chatwoman, can you show the cover here?

Garry Trudeau points out that you can see the difference in Dennis simply from the eyebrows. They slant down here, devilishly. He's EVIL.

Later incarnations have horizontal eyebrows. Yep. Here it is.


Shut up, shut up, shut up!: "In The Washington Post and other online news sources, should people who file comments to online stories be required to identify themselves?"

How about we kill comments altogether? Please? Online comments have devolved into various wingnuts spewing bile over each other (and a few spammers thrown in). I know you can just not read them, but on some sites they're hard to ignore.

Gene Weingarten: I think you're reading them wrong. It's wrong to read them expecting, say, an elucidation or elaboration or logical refutation of the original article. You must read them as entertainment, and as a way to take the pulse of the lowest comment denominator.

Okay, I probably just coined that.


Hey Gene -: Did you get a new crappy car? As I passed your house this morning I noticed a crappy little blue Honda that reminded me of your crappy little blue 323.

Gene Weingarten: That was my son's car! It's a 2004 but looks much crappier!


Silver Spring, Md.: wife and I have lived in the DC area for about 6 years (divided into 2 stints) and up until this past weekend, neither one of us had ever been to Eastern Market.

Can you describe in adequate terms exactly how much of a shell of a person I was? The particular pathology of someone who could live so close to neighborhood and market so cool and never once think to maybe stop by and check it out until forced to by visiting relatives?

Gene Weingarten: It's the best neighborhood I've ever lived in, by a factor of ten.


Gene Weingarten: I have to say, I am surprised by the results of the sex Instapoll. Men and women both are cutting this poster a break. And men are less likely to want such a relationship than I expected.


To Somewhere in Maryland:: My only question to you is: who CARES how "odd" you and your partner may be with regard to your agreement regarding sex outside the relationship? Lots of couples have various "agreements," some of which go unspoken, which is quite a bit riskier than what you have done, in my opinion. I think that it says a lot about your (and your partner's) maturity level that you've talked this through openly. Is there a chance that something could go wrong with this arrangement? Of course. But, um, there's a chance that something could go wrong with every relationship. If it works for you, you don't need external validation from any of us. Perhaps you weren't really asking for that, just checking to see where you lay (heh) on the distribution curve...but whether you asked for it or not, this is a vote for "if it works for you, go for it..."

Gene Weingarten: Agreed, pretty much entirely.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: O Weingarten the Wise, I have a most pressing issue on which I need your expert opinion.

I have a friend who claims that being in a fantasy baseball league is just as dorky as playing Dungeons and Dragons. I wholeheartedly disagree with him on that point. In the interest if full disclosure, I play fantasy baseball now and I played D&D when I was 13 years old.

I base my contention on one supposition. As a 40-year old man, if I am talking to woman whom I might want to date and I mention offhand that I am in a fantasy baseball league, it would mean nothing. If in the same situation I mention offhand that I play D&D, I stand exactly zero chance with this woman.

What say you, Gene?

Gene Weingarten: One of the few great geniuses I know, David Simon, a hardboiled man of the streets, is a fantasy baseball addict.

So immense geekdom can afflict anyone. But it remains intense geekdom. I say that as someone who has 22 working antique clocks in his house.


Alexandria, Va.: I'm a 46-year-old woman who played sports in high school and have been in my share of women's locker rooms. I was at the South Run Rec Center with my six-year-old daughter, getting her dried off and dressed after swim class. This 30-something-year-old woman comes over to the wall-mounted hair dryers with her own handheld dryer and plugs it in. After she dries her hair, she pulls open her underpants in front and points her hair dryer "down there" for a while, then repeats in back, aiming it down her butt crack. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. I've never seen a woman do this before! Has anyone else? I knew I had to share this with you!

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. Obviously, I am unqualified to comment. Anyone?


Silver Spring, Md.: How is it that Republicans and/or conservatives are so good at convincing Americans to vote against their clear interests?

Gene Weingarten: It is their genius. I am convinced of it.


The Mad Hatter's Tea Party: A psychologist writing in Psychology Today argues that Tea Party loonies are exhibiting behavior resembling that of clinically paranoid patients. Whaddaya think?

Gene Weingarten: I don't know that it is about emotional disturbance; I think it's about being dumb, malleable, and promiscuously and thoughtlessly angry, and thus susceptible to scapegoating. Here's what I wrote in Twitter yesterday: Observation after last night: "There are no Dems and Reps in the America, no liberals and conservatives. There's smart and stupid, period."

Then I amended it:

Okay, one commenter to a Washington Post story today said it better and more succinctly than I just did: "The tards lost. Sweeeet."


Fess Up!: While I do think commenters to stories should have to give their name, I don't think chatters should. Why? Because the forum is already heavily moderated. First Liz culls some and then you decide which to answer. In the case of the article comments, only the most vile racist/sexist/hateful stuff is pulled, but the extremist screaming remains. I don't read comments much any more, and definitely don't add to them, for this reason.

Gene Weingarten: You're right about the chats.

I'm ambivalent about the Comments. I LIKE hearing from the frothing nutcakes -- I think it's both entertaining and illuminating. And I'd be in favor of completely unfettered Comments, except for those that are utterly toxic. The ideal solution is to have nearly instant editing, but it's not practical; it would require a greater commitment of resources than any newspaper could realistically commit these days.

So, I dunno. I'm torn. The vile stuff is ... vile. It should not see the light of day. When a newspaper allows it up there, it is passively condoning it.


Dulce de Leche: Your tweet on dulce de leche spurs this old timer to ramble on about the greatest ice cream flavor ever. It was caramel ice cream. There was a place in Connecticut that made their own ice cream, and most everyone agreed that the caramel ice cream was the best flavor ever. Then, one day, tragedy happened. They took it off their list of flavors. They complained that it was too messy to make and they were no longer making it any more.

For decades, I searched across the world for Caramel Ice Cream. Every time I heard of someone making caramel ice cream, I would rush and discover it usually was some type of ice cream (usually vanilla) with caramel swirl inside it. No one had an ice cream who texture and consistency was of ice cream, but the flavor was caramel.

Then, one day, I discovered dulce de leche. It wasn't truly caramel ice cream as it also included the caramel swirl, yet the actual ice cream was indeed old fashioned caramel ice cream, with the taste of caramel in the actual portion that is ice cream.

My search is over. I can die now. But not before I have spent several years eating dulce de leche ice cream (which, unfortunately, I can no longer eat as the stuff will kill me if I eat too much...)

Gene Weingarten: The tweet this person refers to was this:

It is not possible for someone to like ice cream but not like dulce de leche ice cream. There is no other flavor to which this applies.


Washington, DC: I think I spit when I talk.

It's completely inadvertent, and happens whether I am excitedly holding forth or simply speaking quietly to someone. I never noticed it before (but now at 35) think I might be 'spraying it, not saying it'.

Should I apologize when speaking to people? How do I know if I've really sprayed them? This is making me very self-conscious.

Gene Weingarten: You need to keep your mouth dry. Handkerchief.


Negative aspects of positive ID for commenters: Gene, many, if not most of us, are at work and would not want our employers to see our real names on these discussion or in the comments boards. having our real names appear would be like saying to the employer, "Go ahead. Monitor my web use. Make my day."

Gene Weingarten: I know. If I were forced to choose between the current system and no anonymity at all, I'd take the current.

I like that four-tiered prescription the geek wrote in with.


Capitol Hill: You OVERNIGHTED the book to Liz?? Doesn't she live in the DC metro area? That was my thought, too. But ours is not to wonder why...

Gene Weingarten: It would have entailed my moving my butt, getting into a car....

Besides, I don't entirely trust myself to be a gentleman around Liz.


Handy-dandy postal scale: I chose this answer as being the closest to what I would do, even though it misses the spirit of what I would do in the following ways:

1. I don't have a postal scale, I have a kitchen scale, which any good cook would have. It works just as well on mail as a postal scale.

2. Just because I would make use of it, along with the extremely easily accessible USPS website, to take two minutes to figure out how much postage the package needs doesn't in any way mean that paying a few cents over would bother me at all. That would be money well spent to save the trip to the PO.

From the way the answers are phrased, clearly YOU would slap more than enough postage on it and not care. Fine. That doesn't make the practice of paying the right amount of postage pendantic or penny-pinching.

Gene Weingarten: I didn't say it was penny-pinching. I just had this conversation with Pat the Perfect, who chose all the prudent, parsimonious, frugal answers, and felt I was making fun of these. I was not. Pat was particularly exercised at the notion of not returning the rebate form; she said this was akin to burning money.

She is completely right. And yet I notice that there is not a huge disparity in the two groups of respondents between those who watch pennies and those who do not. I think the difference is more a matter of personality (or personality disorder) than of your financial circumstances. (And I note that nearly EVERYONE will pay a restaurant check without consulting it too carefully.)

In my case, I am utterly dysfunction in matters of money. It is not attractive. It goes beyond eccentric to diseased. I slap waay too many stamps on a letter, I never even notice what I'm paying for gas, and I have probably never remembered to send in a rebate form; I've probably already lost it between store and home. I am sure that rebate-offerers count on people like me, which is why they offer rebates and not discounts. (And I don't have a lot of money; obviously, I'd have a little more if I were a different sort of person.)

I have said this before, and I believe it to be true: If I were not married to a sane adult human, I doubt if I would ever submit a doctor's bill for reimbursement by insurance. I'd just never get around to it.


Washington, D.C.: As spring approaches I implore you to remind your fellow dog owners to not put your bag-o-poop in my trash can! The trash was emptied on Monday and the only thing at the bottom of my big plastic bucket that I cannot reach is someone's bag of poop that is stuck to the bottom. It stinks and is annoying. If you drop off your bag, come ring my bell and I will give you one of my son's soiled diapers in exchange.

You owe this as I read in this chat how you previously championed leaving your dogs poop in strangers property. Trash placed in a trash can? Perish the thought!

Gene Weingarten: Chatwoman's snarkiness notwithstanding, I'd like to remind you that I changed my stance on this -- and my behavior -- based on reader feedback. Sanitation people sometimes won't take the doggie bags. they remain and fester.


Washington, D.C.: Gene,

I know you're not an advice columnist, but I trust your opinion more than Amy, Prudie, Carolyn, etc. (nothing against them, of course). So here's my issue:

My younger brother (mid-twenties) is a deadbeat. He doesn't have a job right now, and when he did have a job he couldn't keep it for very long. Of course, every time he lost a job he had some sob story about how it wasn't his fault (the last job he was fired from he gave us a different story than what his wife said had happened). He and his wife have three kids and are barely getting by.

My brother has been mooching off my parents for almost a year now -- they pay his rent, send him money for bills, etc. Pretty much every time he calls them he has a new hard-luck story (car got a flat tire, needs a new clutch, something got stolen, etc.) and asks for more money. My parents are by no means wealthy and constantly sending him money is really hurting them. But they won't tell him. Instead, they wire him money (he doesn't have a bank account) and believe every story he tells them. He claims he's about to take the commercial driver's license test, but he's been saying that for two months now, and of course there's no guarantee he'll get a job after he gets his CDL.

My question is kind of general -- am I being heartless if I tell my parents they need to cut him off? They can't sustain what they're doing, and I don't think he's been motivated enough to find a job, since Mom and Dad always come through with the dough. And should I tell him how much he's hurting them financially? I honestly don't know if he knows how much of an impact his mooching has had on them, but I also don't know if it would change his mind at all. He's the type that gets angry and lashes out whenever he's called out on something.

Or do I even bother stepping into this fray? It's my immediate family, of course, but is it really my business if my brother is sending my parents down the path to financial ruin while not really helping himself?

Gene Weingarten: I would get into the fray. I have seen this sort of thing happen, up close, and it is bad.


Zipcar: Go to the website, and search for Zipcar. They've posted a couple of horror stories - one particular that stuck with me was the people who rented a car, and were stranded, and not only did Zipcar ignore them, the immediately re-rented the car to someone else without fixing it. Maybe the DC branch isn't so bad with maintenance, but it's something to be aware of.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, thanx.


Washington, DC: Fully anonymous commenting can work, if the moderators are robust and active. I frequent a board where there is literally no information about the posters, and while there are certain cues to tell who is new and who isn't (mostly through the use or misuse of shared slang), it's fairly simple to blend.

There's some trolling, but it gets called out quickly, and mods generally take care of it quickly if it goes overboard. Not sure this model would work on a site as large as the Washington Post. You'd probably need over nine thousand moderators to deal with the volume of comments here. The thing is -- rigorous moderation requires manpower and money. Not something most newspapers have at the ready these days.

Gene Weingarten: We need free, deputized monitors. It's a good idea.


Arlington, Va: Hi Gene -

You may have received plenty of responses of this ilk, but your MacBook enables 'delete-forward' by pressing the function button, then the delete key. You can also get a full-sized keyboard that has a built in delete-forward key.

I've been in the market for a Mac, and a Mac-loving coworker was upset that someone was disparaging Macs over this (solved) problem. That kind of over sensitivity is a point against Mac-users. I'm still debating...

Gene Weingarten: This is in response to my column last Sunday, in which I was confessing how modernity is passing me by. I lamented that my hip new Mac does not have a delete-forward key, and speculated that young people seem not to have the need or desire to delete forward.

Yes, I got more than a hundred kindly responses like yours, telling me of the function-delete combo maneuver. I know of it. I do it. But I am still outraged that I must use two hands to perform so basic a function, dagnabbit.

Gene Weingarten: I should add that I am blissfully happy with my MacBook for one big reason: Had I been using a PC laptop I would have already destroyed it at last 6 times. The Mac features a power cord that attaches to the machine by a magnet: It does not plug in. It is impossible to accidentally yank it off the table with a misplaced leg or knee.

Also, the no-virus thing is big.

I've become a fan, though I do not proselytize; they are absurdly expensive, in comparison to equally powerful PCs that can be had for a third the price. And there remain annoying compatibility issues.


West Coudersport, Pa.: Normally missed your chat these past few months, so I may be behind on things that have already been discussed, but I was wondering where your daughter Molly ended up after graduating from Cornell Veterinary School.

Gene Weingarten: She is about to finish a one-year internship in a big vet clinic in Norwalk, Conn., and is coming to a big vet clinic Gaithersburg, Md., where she will have a three-year residency in critical care.


Written by the cartoonist, presumably.: A self-made success, he is the billionaire founder and CEO of Pillsbury Pharmaceuticals. Barney thinks he has it all: wealth, power, prestige, a palatial home, a statuesque trophy wife... until he meets Clyde Finster, a man who has nothing except the some of the freedoms Barney's life denies him.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, neither Chatwoman nor I sees a problem here. Explain, please.


Washington, D.C.: Regarding anonymity on websites and chats: during a First Amendment law school class, we discussed the importance of anonymous speech and the importance of protecting it. I do think there is a place for anonymous speech in the famed "marketplace of ideas." Copping to statements is courageous, no doubt, but there will always be situations where speech is valuable and the speaker fears for his/her safety. I am thinking of the unbelievable lengths that anti-choice nutters will go to to target medical staff and supporters and patients of abortion clinics, picketing their homes and following them into their coffee shops. The identities of clinic supporters should be protected to avoid such harassment. If that also means that, to avoid a fall down the slippery slope, we have to protect the mean-spirited anonymous online commenters, so be it. Free speech has always meant protecting the speech of awful people, be it the KKK or even those same anti-choice protesters. Simply because one is not brave enough to sign one's name to a statement does not mean their words or actions should be disregarded.

Gene Weingarten: These are reasonable points.


Does Pat the Perfect still tune in?: OK, possibly stupid grammar/style question: Why does the Post use "teachers union" and not "teachers' union"? I've seen it in a couple of editorials about Montgomery County, and in George Will's March 18 column, so it must be deliberate.

It's a union that belongs to, or is designated for, teachers, right? Like "men's restroom" or "girls' basketball team"? 'Splain, please, to us stylebookless types.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed. And the syndicate that is going to be carrying Barney & Clyde is "The Washington Post Writers Group." No apostrophe.

Okay, I call upon Patricia for an explanation.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, Ms. Perfect has weighed in. This is not a matter of grammar, she says, but of style. Each institution or organization decides for itself whether it will take an apostrophe or not, and in generic cases like a teachers union, the newspaper will usually opt for the simpler, non-hyphenated solution. There is no real possessive at work here -- it's more like a name preference, as in "and" or "&" in a title.


Fallacious Assumpti, ON: "You have to mail an important sheaf of papers to someone" and you're going to use REGULAR MAIL?!

Seriously: I'm as tight as anyone here, and there's no way in the world I wouldn't at least spring for the $4 traceable mail.

The real problem with mailing from the post office isn't the cost, it's the hours waiting for one of the two zombie clerks populating the ten available windows to finish discussing their grandchildren with the similarly zombified customers mailing ribbon candy by parcel post.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I contend no one walks more slowly than a postal clerk heading into the back to retrieve a package.

And as far as delays, nothing is worse than the customer who is buying stamps and wishes to see a sampling of stamp designs to select the prettiest. Who give's a crap what a stamp looks like? Have these people no life at all?


Arlington, VA: I agree, the overall quality of the Post has gone down while the web content is good. But WHY aren't you making us pay for online WaPo? I have been guiltily reading online forever, thinking "This is sure not to last..." I would have been paying this whole time too, without any resentment, if I'd had to.

Gene Weingarten: I assure you, persons who make more money than you and I combined are currently asking this question as well.


Rebates: I hate them. I invariably run out of time or lose a receipt and feel like I lost money, like I lost a $100 bill. I'd rather not even get the opportunity to receive a rebate.

I'm financially secure, btw.

Gene Weingarten: I agree. They simply fill me with self-loathing.


Washington, D.C.: How are you going to keep your comic current if you "have more than a year's worth already written and drawn"? Isn't Trudeau's two week lead time more reasonable?

Gene Weingarten: You can always sub in topical ones on much shorter lead time. It's not primarily a topical strip: It's modern, but not linked to news events.


Washington, D.C.: Gene,

Regarding the journalism survey, in my opinion if people had to give there real names on this chat we would have lost out on many great chat topics such as VPL, relationship advice, poop shame. I am glad this forum is anonymous.

Gene Weingarten: ESPECIALLY poop shame.


Mens Wear Department, Tysons Corner: I can look at a restaurant tab and figure whether it "seems about right." I can do the same when grocery shopping. I routinely guess what the total will be, and I'm nearly always within 1 percent of the actual amount. This amazes my wife.

As for the question about the $25 phone rebate, I'd make a point to complete it and mail it in just to get back at Verizon. Verizon is so bad they have taken the "Suck" away from the Yankees. The Yankees no longer suck. Verizon SUCKS.

Gene Weingarten: I have heard this all over.

I may be the only Verizon customer who has not had gigantic problems. Well, Verizon cellular.


Arlington, Va.: Gene -

The gay marriage discussion made me remember something you've said in the past - You are certain that Obama is really in favor of gay marriage, but tempered his official views for the election.

I think this is a blind spot for you - you like Obama, so you think he agrees with you on all important matters. Reading his autobiographies, though, made me think his views on the matter are tilt more towards "traditional" Christian perspective held by much of the black community, and that, if anything, he is actually personally more conservative about gay marriage than his public stance.

I bet more of your readers would disagree with you on this than you think, too. Most probably favor the "separate but equal" solution of civil unions. (Although I am not one of them).

Gene Weingarten: I KNOW he agrees with me.

There is a video I once linked to, where he was speaking to a gay panel; his answer on this question, while nuanced, made his true feelings clear. He'll say it outright during his second term.

He'll get a second term, by the way.


Fantasy baseball...: was once as dorky as D&D, when you had to work out the stats and the points by hand. But now that computers do all the legwork, it's more accessible and therefore less geeky.

Gene Weingarten: It's a VERY male thing, because it is not so much about baseball as it is about competition. Cutthroat, in your face competition.

I'd like that. What I could never do is what it makes you do: Root against your favorite team, all the time. Can't do that. Couldn't root for a Red Sox player to do well, just because he was on my "team."


re-Debates: Gene, My son received a breakable toy as a gift, and an oh-so-thoughtful extended warranty, the likes of which I have never purchased. The Boy broke the toy. So, I followed the directs on the warranty form, called the number, received the pre-paid mailing label in an email. Printed the label... I still have the toy and label, it's been over a year.

Gene Weingarten: Yep, that's me.


Rockville, Md.: "At the transcendent moment of his new presidency, the commander in chief of the Western World was getting inspiration from the Washington Post Sunday Funnies. For the record, it is open to "Doonesbury," "Pickles," and "Sherman's Lagoon.""

For the record, that is how the page is folded in the Sunday inserts. The President didn't open it to any page - he just had it on his desk. Looks like it hadn't even been opened yet.

Gene Weingarten: Ah, but he had it OUT on his desk. He took it out of the bag. And it was the ONLY thing on his desk.

He reads the comics.

By the way, wasn't that a great "Doonesbury"?


Stamps: Stamps are art. That is why I want to look at all the available stamps. Sorry to take 30 seconds from your day.

Gene Weingarten: Stamps are ... art?

Well, just for the record, I think your art appreciation studies are really rude when 7 people are standing behind you.


Washington: Where are the Death Squads? I was told there'd be death squads?!

Gene Weingarten: By next Tuesday.

See you next Tuesday.


Washington, D.C.: "Okay, neither Chatwoman nor I sees a problem here. Explain, please."

The "the" before "some" shouldn't be there.

"A self-made success, he is the billionaire founder and CEO of Pillsbury Pharmaceuticals. Barney thinks he has it all: wealth, power, prestige, a palatial home, a statuesque trophy wife... until he meets Clyde Finster, a man who has nothing except the some of the freedoms Barney's life denies him."

Gene Weingarten: Ah! Right you are!


Arlington, Va.: "Silver Spring, Md.: How is it that Republicans and/or conservatives are so good at convincing Americans to vote against their clear interests?

Gene Weingarten: It is their genius. I am convinced of it."

The flip side, of course, is that if you start from the premise that your policy goals are so self-evidently right that it's not necessary to explain them to the public, then you're going to lose public opinion.

Gene Weingarten: Agreed.


Rebates: Right, they're way more cost effective for the merchant, because few of them are ever returned. Like, less than 10%.

Gene Weingarten: Is that true? I'd feel a lot better if that were true.


Women in Bathrooms: Yes, I've seen many women do the "underwear dry" before. I used to swim a lot at my university pool for enjoyment and then rehabilitation of a broken leg. I've seen it countless times. It is probably a younger woman thing. I don't do it because I feel a towel is sufficient. However, other women behave differently. What I want to know more is if men have experienced "moon landings" in the locker room as so famously epitomized on Modern Family? I've never experienced it myself.

Gene Weingarten: What are "moon landings"?


ZipC, AR: LOVE IT. Sold my car 3 years ago, have used it and Metro and buses since and have had 100 percent good experiences.

As to Dennis, there is not a single likeable character in those comics. Eveyerone is unpleasant and nasty and stereotyped. It just is awful. Good comics give their misanthropes redeeming characteristics. These are just bilious.

Gene Weingarten: Wrong. Alice is mostly nice. And she keeps taking baths!


Being Old: Re: your column: We're not even old (younger than Liz) and we're constantly amazed that the college sophomores that we teach are YOUNGER THAN MAGGIE SIMPSON. They are similarly articulate and coordinated, however. And they often share the oral fixation she has.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.


Fairfax, Va.: "I think it's about being dumb, malleable, and promiscuously and thoughtlessly angry"

And you wonder why your side loses the PR battle.

Gene Weingarten: I don't wonder why. I KNOW why.


Washington, D.C.: Gene! I just got engaged! Any advice for all the wedding shenanigans I'm about to wade into?

Gene Weingarten: Yes. Show some cojones. Or some ovaries. Decline the madness.


Bismarck, ND: re Arlington, Va's trifocals. I feel her pain, but more so. I'm 35 and have worn those old grandparent-era bifocals since I was 9 years old (needed distance and reading glasses, and they though I was too young to keep track of two pairs of glasses). I got bifocals before both of my parents - now in their early 60s. I'm so dependent on them now, and accustomed to funny upside-down mousehole, that I doubt I could ever transition to progressive lenses.

Gene Weingarten: Progressive are much better, simply because you don't look like a cripple to others. The adjustment period is a matter of a day or two. As the previous chatter will see.


Arlington, Va.: Let's face it; most people, when they say they want comments moderated, mean that they want opposing viewpoints screened out, except maybe to laugh at the crazies.

Kind of like you do with this chat.

Gene Weingarten: I don't. Honestly.


Gene Weingarten: Liz has just told me what a moon landing is. That would unnerve me. It is bare butts accidentally touching in a locker room. It is called a splashdown if one or both are wet.


Arlington, VA: Re: "Arlandria, Va.: Gene,

Do you have a problem with gay marriage? Where do you stand on the issue?

Gene Weingarten: I'm still working it out in my head. Very complicated moral issue."

Gene are you being sarcastic or is this how you actually feel? I really hope it's the former. I mean we all have the right to our opinions, but it just makes me a little sad to see someone I have admired for so many years characterize gay marriage as a "complicated moral issue." Unless of course you are joking, which I think (hope) you are.

Gene Weingarten: This was all sarcasm. Read my previous answer, the one about Hitler.


Dogtown DC: Own a dog, agree with the person saying no poop in their trash can. Not only do sanitation workers leave the poop bags at the bottom, the also leave the lids off the cans, which then fill with water on rainy days like yesterday. It's quite the welcome home on Monday afternoon on the hill.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, we can agree on this, and we will go out today on a moon landing segment from Modern Family.

Thank you all for a robust day. I will be updating through the month, on Tuesdays.

Hey, fan me at Barney & Clyde. We'll have stuff going on there.


Re: The tea leaves have been read. : Really? Because they chose the old modality (papers) over the new modality (web) when they chose to keep your weekly column over the weekly chat. Seems like driving more traffic to the website would've been more in line with those tea leaves.

Gene Weingarten: I think their thinking was that my column is both web AND paper.

_______________________ For the moon landing itself, fast forward this clip to 1:14.



UPDATED 3.30.10

Gene Weingarten: News of the impending debut of Barney & Clyde hit like a ton of brickbats. Within hours, the cartoonist-run Web site was filled with exuberant, trenchant snark and ridicule, even though not a single B&C strip -- not one episode -- has been released. In an email to me, Guy Endore-Kaiser, half the team behind "Brevity," explained why: "It's as if Simon Cowell suddenly jumped onstage and asked all the past contestants to judge his version of 'Wind Beneath My Wings.' "

Yes, indeed. It is true that over the years I have been somewhat judgmental of the work of others. The payback has begun, and some of it is juicy. The theme so far is that our characters are hackneyed, inhabiting a recycled Depression-era storyline.

Mark Tatulli of "Lio":


Billionaire: (pompously)

"Whoever dies with the most toys, wins!"


Hobo: (sincerely) "The greatest man in history was also the poorest" ┬┐Emerson


Hobo walks off and Billionaire looks on with steam coming out of ears.


Rodd Perry of "Brevity":

I didn't mean to sound so negative -- it's probably Gene's strategy to appeal to the 80-year-old newspaper reader who reads Little Orphan Annie and still uses the word "bum." He may have the last laugh. Wait till you get a load of these guys.

Well I'll be a monkey's uncle, I feel like a real palooka, and I don't mean maybe!


Terry LaBan of "Edge City":

I just checked the Facebook page for this. A sad billionaire and a happy bum -- wow. Sure does capture the zeitgeist, doesn't it? But where's the talking dog? Surely a comic that features this level of innovation and creativity must include a talking dog!

Guy Endore-Kaiser:

The maid's name is Consuela, and the black lady is Ms. Foxx. Oh, this is going to be cutting edge. When do we meet Pillsbury's accountant, Hebrew McYarmulke?

Tom Wood of minigiggles:

Does he have a lawyer yet? Sharky McSwydyle! Or a cook? Burnit Deflame!


So, that's just the beginning! Prediction: This will only get better.


Gene Weingarten: Thanks to Karisue Wyson, we can present to you today the perfect news story, which features giant mutant bubbles of cow poop and fart, visible from Outer Space, being attacked by a renegade Dutchman armed only with a pocketknife, a paddle boat and an ill-advised cigarette.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, I have a question. It's going to be misunderstood, so let me first say I mean it sincerely, as a matter of journalism. I am not trying to be a smartass. I would ask it even if I were a devout Christian.

Here is a line from The Post story yesterday about the Pope beginning the celebration of Holy Week amid calls for his resignation in the pedo-priest scandal:

"Palm Sunday commemorates Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem and is the start of the church's Holy Week, which includes the Good Friday reenactment of Christ's crucifixion and death, and resurrection on Easter Sunday."

Okay, now I mean no disrespect to this great religion and its teachings, but as a matter of journalism, shouldn't we be writing "... crucifixion and death, and supposed resurrection...

or alleged resurrection?

Are we as a newspaper declaring this bit of spiritual mysticism to be true?


I would further observe that we probably should be calling him "Jesus," not "Christ," which, if I understand it correctly, confers upon him divinity.


Gene Weingarten: Several readers asked me how I can state with any degree of certainty that Barack Obama is, deep down, supportive of gay marriage. It's because of this clip.

Obama could have gone many different ways with this answer. But he chose the one way that underscored his real feelings: He talked about his own parents. He didn't have to go there, but by doing it, he was sending a message. Compare that to this postured, tiptoeing response he gave to Rick Warren, where he had to get gingerly in bed with the other side:


Baltimore, Md.: Gene, did you know about this literary error by a famous poet? (from the Wikipedia entry on Browning's poem, "Pippa Passes"):

Besides the oft-quoted line "God's in his Heaven/All's right with the world!" above, the poem contains an amusing error rooted in Robert Browning's unfamiliarity with vulgar slang. Right at the end of the poem, in her closing song, Pippa calls out the following:

But at night, brother Howlet, far over the woods, Toll the world to thy chantry; Sing to the bats' sleek sisterhoods Full complines with gallantry: Then, owls and bats, cowls and twats, Monks and nuns, in a cloister's moods, Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry!

"Twat" both then and now is vulgar slang for a woman's external genitals.[1] When the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary inquired decades later where Browning had picked up the word, he directed them to a rhyme from 1660 that went thus: "They talk't of his having a Cardinall's Hat/They'd send him as soon an Old Nun's Twat." Browning apparently missed the vulgar joke and took "twat" to mean part of a nun's habit, pairing it in his poem with a priest's cowl.[2][3]

Gene Weingarten: This chat is nothing if not topical!

To me, the most interesting fact here is that the word, at least as used in 1660 England, rhymes with "chat."


Washington, D.C.: Driving to work on a busy highway, my sister ended up driving over a sign, kicked up by the car in front of her, dragging the sign for 1/4 mile with sparks flying before she was able to reach a safe place on the shoulder. She was shaken up, but grateful it hadn't gone through her windshield. Her car was undrivable, but she is fully insured. Now that you know all of this, what's the next question you ask her?

Gene Weingarten: I know there is a good answer to this, and I know I am supposed to see it. See, I know these things. What I don't know is the totally obvious thing I am supposed to ask, other than what the sign said, because it might be ironic.


That Super Bowl Ad: I know it's late, but I was hoping that I wouldn't have to explain this and you would post something in the updates. But, that Doritos ad is awful, and as a black woman, it hurt me to see it. It doesn't surprise me that you didn't see what was wrong with it, it's the text book example of white privilege. In our culture and media, white people are people and people are white people. Every commercial has white people in it, so white people get to be single moms, beer drinking idiots, investment bankers, doctors, minivan driving family folks, up to everything and anything that people really are. So you don't see a commercial with a white person in it, and sit up and pay attention to the portrayal. You take it for granted that what you see on the screen does not have to be media's portrayal of you.

Black people don't have that. I'm not saying we're nowhere on tv (yes, there's the old spice guy, or one of the beer drinking idiots is black, etc.) But a commercial featuring an all black cast means something, even if made with no ill will (actually, the fact that it has an all black cast at all, I'm willing to wager that whoever wrote it was black) it still telegraphs to the Super Bowl watching audience that this is what Black people in America are, and then there is no other view to counter that.

So, what do you have? You have a single mom (there are lots of single moms and I'm not saying it's per se a negative portrayal, but you KNOW that the American vision of the Black single mom is much different than other single moms). The first thing we notice is that she has her butt leered at by her date, and by extension the tv viewing audience. The commodification of the Black woman's body has a troubling history going back to the Venus Hottentot. Then we see her child. A young boy barely out of toddler hood, and how does he act? Insolent and disrespectful, culminating in an act of violence.

Again, the main problem with this commercial is that it is the ONLY commercial. You've got middle America yukking along at this image of us, which frankly doesn't seem to have changed much since Reagan's "welfare moms eating bonbons" comments. Yeah, it's offensive. It became really hurtful when the commercial immediately following it was one of rocket scientists and every single last one of them was either white or Asian.

This is obviously long, and I've expounded on things and could go off on tangents at many different points. But I promise, the main gist of this post was something that hit me immediately. My disappointment became my facebook status following the game. And quite a few of my friends either commented with their agreement or hit the "like" button. So, no, the poster who originally raised it was not overthinking and suffering from "white guilt." That person was seeing through the privilege and right on.

Gene Weingarten: Liz, can we re-link to this ad?

It's taken two months, but this email finally persuaded me. Bad ad. Super Bowl Doritos ad.


Gene Weingarten: And, finally, today, the first Barney & Clyde piece-of-crap giveaway!

Many of you have already become fans of Barney & Clyde at our Facebook page. We urge those of you who haven't to get on board, so you can get in on goodies like this. Yes, this is a genuine uncorrected reviewer's proof of my book, "The Fiddler in the Subway," due out this summer from Simon & Schuster. The book is an anthology of my big feature stories, but if you wait to buy the finished product you'll miss this opportunity to get a copy in cheesy yellow binding FILLED WITH ERRORS. Yes, this baby is practically unedited, containing SCORES of goofs, large and small, innocuous and HUGE. It is printed on paper as crappy as the stuff with which you clean eyeglasses. This fine item will go to the Barney & Clyde fan who creates the most over-the-top, shameless letter to a local newspaper editor explaining why he or she must buy the strip. The more preposterous the argument, the better. (You don't have to SEND the letter to your local newspaper editor, though I'm not saying you can't.)

Post your entries to the Facebook page. I'll announce the winner in the update next Tuesday, when a new contest begins.


10:47 a.m. ET...

Gene Weingarten: Urgent update update!

A conservative inadvertently reveals his inner self!

This is a quote from today's Washington Post piece about Republican National Committee overspending:

Mark DeMoss, a major RNC donor who heads a Christian public-relations firm in Atlanta, said that spending so lavishly during an economic downturn is "mind boggling." "Virtually the entire country -- from big business to small business -- had to make cutbacks," he said.

There you go! The WHOLE COUNTRY is suffering! All of it! Both the giant corporate bloodsuckers and the smaller corporate bloodsuckers!


UPDATED 4.06.10

Gene Weingarten: My friend David Mills, a screenwriter whom I met when he worked at The Washington Post, died suddenly last week on the set of "Treme," an HBO series he was filming with David Simon. As Simon told me yesterday, there are worse ways to go: Mills died of a ruptured brain aneurysm, in the middle of a thought, without so much as a gasp of warning, while making a movie. He was 48.

Over the years, David Mills and I spoke only rarely; when we did, we always laughed. At its core, a sense of humor is an appreciation of the absurdity of life; David Mills's sense of humor was world-class.

About a year and a half ago, when I found this old Dennis the Menace comic David was the first person I e-mailed. I needed help trying to figure out what the hell Hank Ketcham thought he was trying to do, and just how judgmental we were entitled to be about it, and David was the perfect person to ask. A black man who looked like a white man, he had a perfect vantage point in life to observe our clumsy, tortured, sometimes hilarious efforts to make sense of race.

I just went back over our e-mail trail about this Dennis the Menace cartoon. His first reaction was: "Wow!" What followed, seconds later, was a jubilant, exuberant barrage of proposed alternative captions, a dozen or more of them, all funny, including "Hey Dad. Anything else you wanna tell me about your year in Kenya with the Peace Corps?" and, "Hey, Dad. This is Jackson, Margaret's new pimp." I used both of those in the chat poll.

(In the end, David and I decided Ketcham was to be forgiven; he was an old fud, hopelessly behind the times; moreover the actual JOKE behind the strip was good, and that was crucial: If you've got a legitimately good joke, it excuses a lot. Tasteless in the honest pursuit of humor is no vice. David and I agreed on that. )

Which brings me pretty directly to one other communication David and I had, in the middle of the presidential election campaign, one I've never written about. David e-mailed me one day to show me an anagram he had come up with. (We were both anagram freaks; I have always pompously contended that in their anagrams, words have hidden and often wildly ironic double meanings, and that anagrammists like Mills and me are not artists so much as God-anointed channelers, through whose brains the real meanings of words work their way out. David agreed wholeheartedly. We could be real a-holes on this subject.)

Anyway, Mills had uncovered a great new anagram of Barack Obama's name. He sent it to me. My instant response was "Wow!" It was ingenious and inspired. It was also racist and completely vile, excusable only in the very narrow context it was offered: Two friends sharing the joy of seditious humor, not because it was hurtful, but because it was a perfect absurdity -- a thumb in the eye to the whole walking-on-eggshells racial divide.

This anagram was not even duplicatable: it required a subtle knowledge of language, dialect and history. No computer anagram generator could ever find it.

I asked David: What are you going to do with this? He said: I dunno! The fact is, we both knew we could do absolutely nothing with it. In the wrong hands it was poison, a crude joke, a racist anthem. You'd see it everywhere, used as a weapon. So we agreed to keep it a secret.

I was thinking about this yesterday, and the joy of creative authorship all writers have, and I was thinking that had I come up with that anagram I probably could not have resisted sharing it, somehow, with a larger, if select audience. The writing devil in me would have required it. Writers write for others to read; it is what we do. So, yesterday, on impulse, I searched the Web for that anagram, and there is exactly one hit. I should have known that David had that devil in him, too. He got it out there. You have to know what to look for, and I'm not going to tell you.


Gene Weingarten: On the Barney & Clyde comics front, we are humbled to reveal the existence of a Barney & Clyde Appreciation Blog, created by Horace LaBadie. We are, however, horrified to discover that Horace has somehow obtained a copy of the very first strip, which SHOULD have been embargoed for its launch date of June 7. We just don't know what to say about this security breach.

The winner of this crappy mistake-filled book is Bob Dalton of Arlington, who wrote the most overheated Letter to an Editor demanding the purchase of the strip. Here is an excerpt:

Dear Editor:

Barney & Clyde is a staggering, triumphal debut, wholly unprecedented in the history of comics. Yet "comics" is surely the wrong term, for Barney & Clyde balances an Algonquin Roundtable wit with a Three Stooges-like zaniness, all with the insight of Aristotle and the aggression of Nietzsche, packaged with Renaissance-level artwork. It will change your life, and likely save the Obama Administration's agenda...

I also liked this from Andrew Keegan:

...Had God not rested on the Seventh day, He would, no doubt, have created Barney & Clyde...

The Barney & Clyde Facebook Page now has 600 friends. It sure could use a few more.


Gene Weingarten: Kerry Ahern reports this wonderful, if tragic, aptonym.


Gene Weingarten: Returning to the Dennis The Menace theme, I am in receipt of a correspondence from my good friend David Von Drehle in which he accuses me of "geographical bigotry." David is referencing my statement in the last chat suggesting that one of the reasons "Dennis The Menace" went from being edgy to bland was that it spread in syndication across "the square states." My point was that the greater and broader and more small-towny the audience, the more homogenized a strip must become. David, who grew up in the squarest state (Colorado) had the effrontery to suggest that, on this matter, I had my head up my arse.

I tried to confirm my contention, but failed. Newspaper editors in all sorts of places show quirky prudishness; there is no clear small-town monopoly on this. So David's right -- I am a geographical bigot.


Instapoll Request: Okay, if you were to have a dalliance with a comic book character, who would it be? Jessica Rabbit? Blondie Bumstead? She-Hulk?

Gene Weingarten: It might be Alice, from "Dilbert." I like her fierceness. I think she'd be really interesting in a romantic situation. Plus, she has hair like Pat The Perfect. Rowr.


See you next Tuesday: I see what you did there, Gene.

Sneaky, Sneaky.

Gene Weingarten: And you were the only one. This is apparently not a well-known conceit. Most of the readers will not know what the hell we are talking about, nor will this deliver a knowing smile.


Gene Weingarten: Urgent UPDATE to the UPDATE. You will remember this moment for the rest of your life! (Important Warning: Liz says that I need to alert all of you that there might be some NSFW issues here, even though this is an academic site, at a major international university, and we are simply talking about a person's name. When I told Liz she was being a ridiculous prudish fussbudget AND was forcing a joke-squashing elbow to the ribs, she informed me that she was boss, and what she says goes, and that all of you are to be treated like pre-adolescent children. I made up that last part but if you ask me it was implied.)


UPDATED 4.20.10

Gene Weingarten: I wrote in the last update about the sudden death of my friend David Mills, and about the secret, unpublishable anagram he created for Barack Obama. David did some of his best work on his blog, which he wrote under the pseudonym "undercover black man." (David was black, but looked white. It gave him an interesting perspective on race.)

David liked Barack Obama, but David was also a deep thinker and a teller of truths. And so it is that I happened upon his last big post, which he wrote just a few days before he died. It's quite remarkable. Here it is, in its entirety:

Have y'all noticed something peculiar -- and a little off-putting -- about Barack Obama's rhetorical style as president? Have you noticed how he over-personalizes s---? Makes it all about him?

I've noticed this for a while, but felt compelled to blog about it tonight... after President Obama's surprise visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Where he said this:

"I've made a promise to all of you who serve. I will never send you into harm's way unless it's absolutely necessary. I anguish in thinking about the sacrifices that so many of you make. That's why I promise I will never send you out unless it is necessary."

You anguish, Mr. President? You anguish? Dude, nobody wants to hear about your "anguish." Least of all soldiers who gotta go out tomorrow and get shot at.

It's your job to anguish about stuff like that, Mr. Obama. Being president is the hardest job in the world, and you wanted it. Now just do the job without congratulating yourself for having to do it... and without soliciting sympathy.

I found the complete text of Obama's Afghanistan remarks online. Check this out:

"I'll tell you right now the same thing that I said at West Point last December. If I thought for a minute that America's vital interests were not served, were not at stake here in Afghanistan, I would order all of you home right away."

Did previous presidents talk this way? I don't think so. Nor do I think a president should talk this way... constantly referring to himself personally, to his own feelings, to his own power.

Let's keep an eye on this moving forward. I will surely blog about it again.


You won't, but I will. I'll watch for ya, David. Hope the readers will, too.


Gene Weingarten: And on a related matter, we mourn also the passing of Henry Holt. Henry was not the book publisher of fame, but the estimable old dog belonging to Pat The Perfect. Henry is responsible for one of the finest dog photographs ever taken, and I am including works by Cartier-Bresson, Guzy, Williamson, and Wegman. The image was made on a digital something by a member of the Holt household, a few seconds after coming home and finding Henry like this.


Lucretia Pillsbury: Lucretia Mott and Parker Pillsbury?

Gene Weingarten: Lucretia Borgia, Lucre, and "Pills bury." Mr. Pillsbury is a pharmaceuticals tycoon.


San Diego, Calif.: An interesting read from Newsweek, 15 years ago.

What amazes me about the article is that the author is more right than wrong, yet, the Internet has succeeded despite all the perceived shortcomings.

Gene Weingarten: This is interesting. He missed two things, and they were critical: That people would figure out how to make money by aggregating, therefore the Web would cease to be an unintelligible babble of information, and 2) that people WANT to be hermits. If we can avoid human contact, we will.

At the time he wrote this, Clifford Stoll was an important astronomer and author. Now, according to, um, the great aggregator Wikipedia, he is mostly a stay-at-home dad who sells glass bottles on the Web.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, time for me to make a fool of myself, even more than usual. I've been alive 58 years. Been here for 1961 and 1998. I've never seen a Yankees team as good as this one. Prediction: 119 wins, the most ever. Three 20-game winners. Mariano Rivera sets the season record for saves. Brett Gardner steals 70 bases. Robinson Cano hits .340.

We'll revisit this a few months hence.


Gene Weingarten: Oh, the researcher who investigated the prevalence of child abuse by Catholic priests versus schoolteachers is "Carol Shakeshaft."


Gene Weingarten: And now, as a regular chat update feature, some of my recent idiot Twitter observations:

Should Be Convicted On Mug Shot Alone --

Evil Pope pictures!

A friend just sent me an IM with this typo: "hsit." I decided that it means Chinese feces.

Should Be Convicted on Mug Shot Alone:

When Lucy pulled the football away, why did Charlie Brown wind up on his back? It makes no sense!

So why can cell phone technology pinpoint your location to five square feet, but not make the screen visible when it's sunny out?

What Nobel prizewinning author never let fame go to his head? George Bernard Pshaw.

Q: How is a cloudburst like the period of time Mary I ruled England? A: Well, the cloudburst is a bitch of a rain ...


Philly, Pa.: Hey, Gene; Apropos of the Doonesbury you posted earlier, a friend of mine noticed that the Tea Party's logo looks like an American flag wrapped around a penis.

I only put this out there for your amusement.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. We can end on this.


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